Jan 13 2021

Student Success Takes on New Meaning Amid Remote Learning

From financial challenges to childcare needs, colleges find new ways to engage with and support their students.

Flexibility, communication and strong engagement with students have helped to boost their success during COVID-19, say higher education administrators in a recent webinar.

“Student Success in the Era of COVID-19,” hosted by University Business magazine, addressed best practices for managing student lifecycles, maintaining engagement and supporting successful outcomes during the pandemic.

As universities have shifted to remote work and learning, many have struggled to foster communication with students. Colleges across the country have also experienced declines in enrollment since the pandemic began. Community colleges saw an enrollment decline of nearly 19 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, while public four-year institutions took a 10 percent hit and private four-year institutions saw an 8.5 percent decline.

Colleges Take a Fresh Look at the Student Lifecycle

The wide-ranging effects of enrollment drops and new learning models, combined with the overall uncertainty characterizing higher education these days, has led institutions like Ivy Tech Community College to look closely at the entire student lifecycle, from prospect to alumnus. Two areas the college identified for improvement were student engagement and academic advising.

“The name of the game is flexibility — helping the students where they are and meeting their needs,” says John Laws, vice-chancellor of student success for Ivy Tech’s Lafayette Campus. “We have needed to get to know our students on a personal basis more than ever before. That is harder because of the virtual nature and online presence.”

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn the best practices for engaging students online.

Ivy Tech has put communication and engagement front and center to assist students, many of whom have experienced financial hardship because they work in industries that require face-to-face contact, such as hospitality. Other students struggle with a lack of childcare, which has affected their enrollment decisions and led many to move to more accelerated, short-term sessions. To help, the college has partnered with nonprofits and other organizations to connect students with affordable resources.

“You have to plan for the unexpected,” says Laws. “We didn’t anticipate some of the things that were coming, and every day we have new challenges, but the ‘learn anywhere’ model has proven to be very beneficial. Faculty has been working with students to help them stay engaged in their coursework and be successful.”

As colleges continue to reinvent themselves in the post-COVID-19 era, there will be a growing need to integrate technology solutions that allow them to centralize their numerous systems and online services, says Kevin Bresser, director of higher education for Okta, a cloud-based identity management platform and the webinar sponsor. With so much work now taking place at home, more colleges are seeking to improve their digital security by streamlining access and identity management across the network.

How to Find Opportunities Amid COVID-19-Related Challenges

At many institutions, the shift to an online model has resulted in new improvements and efficiencies. At Fairleigh Dickinson Unive­rsity, as support services have moved online, new technologies have been adopted more quickly than usual in higher education, says Luke Schultheis, vice president for enrollment, planning and effectiveness.

The flexibility of remote work, for example, has enabled the university to expand course hours and offer more personalized advisory services and extracurricular activities that align with students’ majors.

Looking ahead, the university’s driving mission is to “condense, collaborate and centralize” by focusing more on core competencies, says Schultheis. The shakeup of the pandemic has forced the administration to think creatively and employ a variety of strategies that have resulted in higher graduation rates.

“This has been an opportunity for us to reinvent things,” he says. “This is a cool time to be able to look at what is critical to our mission and let us enhance and focus on that.”